Using the ecological restoration of dunes in Puerto Rico to increase the resilience of coastal communities and habitats to future storms and other effects of climate change

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Robert J. Mayer , Patricia Chardón

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The Archipelago of Puerto Rico was severely impacted by hurricanes Irma, María in 2017 and by winter storm Riley in 2018. As a result of these events many of the coastal dunes on the north coast of the island were destroyed or severely degraded leaving coastal communities and wildlife habitats extremely vulnerable to the effects of future extreme weather events and climate change. Our project focuses on improving important physical conditions and the species composition of dunes in that area by contributing to the cessation of coastal threats and assisting in the recovery process. To achieve this we installed wooden boardwalks, exclusion fences and signage to re-direct foot and vehicular traffic away from vegetated areas and to promote sand accumulation and increase vegetation cover. Sand trapping biomimicry matrices were used to increase sand volume and then the incipient dunes were stabilized by planting vegetation whose roots and rhizomes further trap and stabilize the sand making the dune more resistant to erosion. An RTK-GPS-enabled unoccupied aerial vehicle (UAV) and photogrammetry software were used to collect baseline data, plan and monitor our restoration work. These approaches allowed us to successfully repair breaches and create dunes in areas where they had been destroyed. Increases of more than 60% in sand volume and up to 100% of vegetation cover in a one-year period were observed in some areas. Our efforts also included an environmental education component. These actions protect adjacent primary infrastructure and wildlife habitats from future storms and other effects of climate change.

Resource Type:
Conference Presentation, SER2021

Pre-approved for CECs under SER's CERP program